HC quashes appointment of Punjab consumer commission member
HC says minister exceeded his jurisdiction while re-assessing the merit decided by the selection panel to pick the third of the three candidates recommended
The Punjab and Haryana high court has quashed the appointment of Urvashi Agnihotri as member (non-judicial), State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Punjab.
She was appointed on October 6, 2021, on the day when the high court had issued a notice to the state government on a plea from one Vishav Kant Garg, an applicant for the post, who had alleged that the government ignored the merit list for the appointment.
The selection panel for the post is headed by a high court judge with two senior government officers as members. The panel had recommended three names – Vishav Kant Garg, Yadwinder Pal Singh Baath and Urvashi Agnihotri – in order of merit. The government ignored the first two persons in the merit and appointed Agnihotri, the plea said.
The high court bench of justice Mahabir Singh Sindhu, while quashing the appointment, observed that if the state government was allowed to choose any candidate from the panel irrespective of their merit, without assigning any cogent reason, then recommendation made by the selection committee will be rendered otiose, and that will be complete negation of the rules for appointment of members and others of the State Commission and District Commission.
“… the state government has to follow the recommendation of the selection committee and it cannot ignore the merit without assigning any valid reason….there will be no power with the state government to ignore a candidate higher in merit and choose a person of lesser merit,” the bench said, referring to the case in question.
The court further added that the government must realise that the selection committee was headed by a nominee judge of the chief justice, two senior government officers were associated as members of the committee and the recommendations were unanimous.
“Thus, in such a situation, instead of ignoring the recommendations of the selection committee, the same ought to have been respected by the state government so as to lend credence to the appointment of member, state commission, who is supposed to discharge the quasi judicial functions in a welfare state,” the bench underlined.
During the proceedings of the case, it had come to light that the director, department of food, civil supplies and consumer affairs, had advised for the appointment as per order of merit by selection committee. It was concurred by secretary of the department, but the then minister concerned proposed Agnihotri’s name, stating that other two were already in the list of district commissions.
“However, the minister did not realise that merit list was prepared by the selection committee on the basis of due assessment of candidates including their ‘work experience’ in terms of the selection criteria,” the bench further noted, adding that the minister had no authority for recording such an opinion.
Even as per rules of business of the state government, in case of difference of opinion between the secretary of the department and minister-in-charge, the matter ought to be decided by the chief minister.
The minister had exceeded his jurisdiction while re-assessing the merit and the then chief minister, instead of giving an independent consideration, simply put his signature and did not opine whether he agreed with the secretary or the minister, the court recorded. Agnihotri has challenged this order but the court is yet to take cognizance of the same. It stands adjourned for December 20.